Monday July 2, 2007

By Brian Danko                                              Click On Photo For Full Size Version                            

LOUDON, NH -- Donny Lia of Jericho, NY is living a dream right now.

For the fourth time in the last five races, Donny Lia found the way to victory lane and it was a typical New Hampshire finish as Lia bested Ted Christopher, Eddie Flemke, Jr., Matt Hirschman and Todd Szegedy to win the New England 100.

After a caution on lap 73, NASCAR notified the modified teams that the race would end l2 laps from there and everyone knew it would be a wild finish. "I just tried to stayed focused and not look in my mirror." Lia said when asked how to prepare for the shoot-out. " I canıt believe this right now, I know I'll wake up soon."  Lia won $15,400. For his first win at NewHampshire. For car owner Bob Garbarino, it was another step towards a first ever-modified tour championship, something that has eluded the veteran owner in over 40 years of racing.|

When he came into the media center, Lia, a Long Island native, dedicated the win to Tom Baldwin, who was killed at the Thompson Speedway a few seasons back. "This is a big win for us, we have gotten off to a great start, I just hope we can keep it going."

For Teddy Christopher, who earned $11,950, it was another race of what if. "Well, NASCAR decided to cut the race short and I'm not too happy about it." T.C. said after finishing second to Lia for the second straight race and a race Christopher figured was his to win. "To finish second two weeks in a row is pretty disappointing. They advertise the race is going to be 100 lap and then they cut it."

The reason for shortening the race was two fold, first ESPN was getting ready to come on live with the Busch series pre-race and second was the abundance of cautions in the modified feature. To say that this was a typical modified NHIS race would be a lie; in fact, Lia was the fastest car most of the day, except for an early lead by Christopher and a late race lead for Flemke with a couple to go. In a race that normally sees anywhere from 20 to 30 lead changes per race, this saw just seven and disappointed the crowd that was estimated at 45,000.

When the race went green, it was the front row of Christopher and Lia and T.C. led the first seven before the Long Island Flash took the lead. For most of the next 30 laps, Lia and Christopher were pulling away at ease over the rest of the field and looked to settle it out among themselves but the first of several cautions would close the field up and cause more cautions by the double file restarts. On a lap 34 restart, James Civali, who came into the race second in points, lost the transmission on the restart and the caused a multi car wreck at the start finish line. On the 38th circuit, it was Lia, Matt Hirschman, Ron Yuhas and Eddie Flemke on the restart but Lia slowly but surely opened up his advantage. On the 44th lap, Tony Hirschman went by his son, Matt and took over the second spot. Matt Hirschman then bump drafted his father closer to the front with Flemke running on Mattıs rear bumper. Ted Christopher, who pitted on the lap 34 caution, was now moving his way back to the front as he was running 15th and closing fast. As Lia continued to enjoy his lead, it was still the older and younger Hirschmans leading Flemke as the race now had a steady flow to it. On lap 63, Donny Liaıs lead came to a halt as Nevin George spun in turn two and that send Tony Hirschman, Zach Sylvester, John Blewett, III, Jimmy Blewett and Mike Stefanik into the pits. As the field went back green, Christopher was now right in the hunt as he was running sixth. Much to Christopherıs delight, another caution flew on lap 69 and then on the lap 73 restart, Jerry Marquis, Alex Hoag and Danny Sammons got together. It was under that caution, which NASCAR officials decided to shorten the race as the television window was closing rapidly. After going green, Eddie Flemke was forced to make a move and the Southington, CT resident did as he rode Lia up the track in turn three. He took over the lead but as they headed into turn two one lap later, Lia retook the lead and brought Christopher with him. Christopher tried one more time on the final circuit but Lia, as he did all day, had the field covered and cruised to the win.

"Here we are again." A stunned Lia told the crowd, which roared its approval. "We made a decision not to pit early in the race and the car was good all day. We had enough of a car that we can stay out front." Lia who teamed with Garbarino in mid January said itıs a combination of things that have propelled the team to new heights. "It was a set of circumstances that brought Bob and I together. In my mind, I knew that if I could just focus on driving that we'd be better off." Lia, who ran his own team and had problems with several drivers in the past also admits that driving for Garbarino has calmed him down. Lia knew on the final restart he would be a hunted man, he just tried his best to drive his line and not watch the mirrors. When Lia was asked his he thought in his wildest dreams he would win four of the first six race, he jokingly said no but added, "If someone told me I would have, I would have told them to see a doctor."

The rest of the top ten was Ronnie Silk, Bobby Santos, III, Ron Yuhas, Charlie Pasteryak and John Blewett, III.

The frustration on Ted Christopher's race is showing but his string of second place finishes has vaulted him into the top ten. "We started off by being cautious and then we got by several cars at the end but NASCAR put me back behind them and I had to repass them. Its tough to pass seven cars in six laps but we got a few of them."

Eddie Flemke, Jr had a strong car all day long and was rewarded with the third place finish. "I took as much as I could at the end. "Flemke said of his pass on Lia that propelled him into the lead but said, "It was the best run I could get and
he gave me enough room. It was my only chance. Everyone played fair at the end and it was an exciting finish from where I sat."

Mike Stefanik, the nine-time NASCAR champion and defending series champion has had a forgettable season to date. Mike pitted the Diversified Metals several times but couldnıt get the car right. While Mike is in the top tenin points, he has just two top five's to dates. Don't count out the champion just yet as they will figure the 2007 season before itıs too late.

Once again, NASCAR officials need to explain why a simple spin in turn two that threw dirt on the track required a six-lap caution period. The NHIS track crew, which won't win any rewards for being speedy, took two laps to get to the turn to blow the track dry and then NASCAR wasted more laps as the press box media personal were scratching their heads in disbelief. Somebody needs to explain this action because the paying customers, the fans, are complaining about it. Wake up NASCAR.

A few ago in the Thompson Speedway press box, a couple of media members had a shouting match and this week at NHIS a couple of NASCAR officials seemed not too happy with each other, what gives?

Donnie Lia added to his pointıs lead as he extended it to 61 points over Todd Szegedy with Matt Hirschman third, just two points behind Szegedy. Jimmy Blewett is fourth with 817 and James Civali took a hit falling from second to fifth, 141 out of the lead. Eric Beers had to start scratch on the field because he changed an engine.

On Thursday, a freak accident sent a modified crewmember and former modified team owner to the hospital in critical condition. Greg Narducci, one of the nicest people in racing was involved in a golf cart accident and is in Dartmouth Hospital. Our thoughts and prayers go with Greg and his wife, Vanetta, during this tough time.

This was the 46th race for the modifieds at the "Magic Mile".

During the drivers meeting, NASCAR officials said only one scoring loop would be used this weekend for the modifieds and that would be at the Start-Finish line. If this happened last year, James Civali would have won and NASCAR wouldn't look silly having the wrong driver in victory lane. In races at Cup events, NASCAR has many scoring loops set up throughout the race and can determine just when the caution flew to freeze a field.

Did you know that Ted Christopher leads anyone who has every raced at Loudon with the most wins (9) and the most pole (9). He also ranks 44th in all-time money won heading into this weekend's race.

In Bud Pole qualifying for the New England 100, Ted Christopher captured his seventh pole at the track when he bested 39 other modified drivers. Ted, a winner here in the modifieds four times, circled the track at 126.812 MPH. Points leader, Donnie Lia was second quickest with Jimmy Blewett third fastest. The remainder of the top six is Matt Hirschman, Eddie Flemke, Jr., and Tony Hirschman.

The New England 100 was the first of two NASCAR modified tour events at
1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway. The tour returns here next on Saturday, September 15th. The purse for the June race $164,095.

According to the speedway, SPEED will broadcast the race on July 25th at noon. There will also be other rebroadcast, check your local listings.

Heading into the 100 lapper, none of the current top six drivers in points have ever won at Loudon. Reggie Ruggiero and Mike Stefanik have a total of six wins at NHIS whileTony Hirschman is the master with seven wins. Heading into the Loudon weekend, the top five in points were separated by a total of just 43 points.

The modified tour heads to Twins States Speedway for the second of three Flash events. This race could have lasting effects on the modified tour with NASCAR. Wonder if George Silbermann, NASCAR big shot will be there?